Ben Stock – The Land of Make Believe at Live at Zédel, London.
Star rating: three stars ★ ★ ★ ✩ ✩
With the cosy, but lavish surrounds of Live at Zédel being perfect for Ben Stock’s style of intimate performance, he wasted little time in making sure his small, but appreciative audience knew exactly what to expect over the next 80 minutes or so.
‘Be Our Guest’, as a opener, was fun, upbeat and with Inga Davis-Rutter on piano – Stock’s adopted “fairy godmother of musical directors” – the evening was off to a delightful start.
It greatly helped the entertainment quotient, of course, that here was an artist not embarrassed to share a few personal confidences in between songs and as the night progressed, we learnt about his roots, professional highs and lows and the kind of music that he loves performing best – each number being picked from a very long initial list drawn up.
Inspiration for this particular performance would come from the pens of Coward, Sondheim, the Sherman Brothers, Amanda McBroom, Jerry Herman and Stiles and Drewe.
I’ve always found ‘Mrs Worthington’ a slightly tiresome ditty, but Stock, now seated at the piano, certainly wrung maximum humour from it. If the number was a safe choice, then later, his rendition of another Coward song, ‘Three Theatrical Dames’, was anything but.
Having had many a stint over recent years playing an ugly sister in Cinderella, the delight with which Stock performed the number was evident. Memories of High Wycombe, Hastings and Dartford must have flooded back, mid song.
Having struggled, he confessed, to decide on his exact set for the evening when faced with a blank piece of paper and limited performance time at the venue, there was ultimately enough variation and artistic interpretation here to keep most amused and entertained.
He could and should have taken more risks in his musical choices, but his covers of ‘There’s Always Tomorrow’ from Peter Pan (Stiles and Drewe) and ‘Let’s Go Fly a Kite’ (Richard M Sherman) proved very shrewd choices and were perfectly executed.
As to the title of the show, Stock said that it wasn’t intended to be an homage to the legendary 1981 Eurovision victors Bucks Fizz, more a stated intention to transport his audience to within his imagery, creative world.
More’s the pity really – Stock doing a twirl around the piano, while Davis-Rutter whipped off a piece of his clothing to the tune of ‘Making Your Mind Up’, would have been the perfect finale. To take final stock, here was a performer with considerable charm – without any hint of smarm.